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The Battered Women's Legal Assistance Project (BWLAP) is a legal aid program that helps economically disadvantaged victims and survivors of domestic violence build long term safety and security for themselves and their children.
The seven local legal aid programs that have BWLAP attorneys who advise and represent survivors are:
The Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project (BWLAP)
The Massachusetts Legislature established the Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project in 1993 to provide free legal assistance to low-income battered women seeking long term security for themselves and their children. With funding from the state budget, BWLAP provides legal information, advice and representation to victims of domestic violence in complex family law, abuse prevention and other cases where domestic violence is a critical factor. BWLAP represents victims who suffer from a wide range of abusive, violent, or intimidating behaviors. These behaviors, used by abusers to control their victims, include:
• Physical, emotional/mental, economic and sexual abuse.
• Using children to achieve control over the victim.
• Exploiting the victim’s vulnerability arising from immigration status, fear of homelessness or loss of financial benefits.
• Controlling the victim by isolation, coercion or threats.
BWLAP representation helps victims and their children become
free of these patterns of domestic violence and recover economically,
emotionally and physically. Thanks to
the dedicated legal advocacy of its attorneys, BWLAP has helped tens of
thousands of women and children escape the cycle of violence. In FY07, BWLAP programs
handled 2,982 cases, contributing to the safety and survival of approximately 9,400
women and children.
Abused women are most vulnerable to further harm when they try to leave their abuser. They face retribution and impoverishment. When battered women escape a batterer, the Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project is there to help them secure custody and child support orders, wage assignment orders, housing and health coverage so that they do not feel compelled to return to their abusers for economic reasons. BWLAP ensures that domestic violence victims have the security they need to begin rebuilding their lives.
Since the Project’s creation, local BWLAP programs have responded creativelyto local community needs. BWLAP advocates work jointly with their local domestic violence services providers to expand the number of battered women receiving legal assistance. They recruit private attorneys for pro bono work. They conduct community legal education workshops for providers, shelters, police, educators, health care workers, victims and others to help them know the law and support the efforts of victims of domestic violence become safe and secure. They have developed clear legal information on domestic violence and made it available to the public at www.masslegalhelp.org.
BWLAP advocates testify before the Legislature and communicate with legislators so that they are aware of the effects of proposed legislation on battered women. In the 2005- 2006 Session, BWLAP advocates informed legislators about dangers to battered women and their children in bills such as:
• The “shared custody presumption” bills.
• Bills that would make it harder to get restraining orders.
• Bills that would reduce protections for victims who must
• The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which is weak on domestic violence issues.
None of these proposals was adopted.
“Megan” had a 7-year-old son with a severe form of autism and an abusive husband. One day when Megan returned from work, she found that the child had serious bruises all over his face and body. Megan immediately called the Department of Social Services (DSS), which conducted an investigation and concluded the child had been beaten by his father. When Megan asked her husband what had happened, he became enraged, and grabbed her and threw her across the room. He had physically abused her many times before, but now Megan had decided she had had enough. She took her son and fled to a shelter. BWLAP represented Megan in her divorce and obtained legal and physical custody of the child as well as child support
Advocating for Change
• BWLAP attorneys are working with District Courts to make child support and custody orders more available in Abuse Prevention (209A) cases.
• BWLAP’s work with the Probate and Family Court has improved the practice of guardians ad litem in cases involving domestic violence and has made attorney fee orders more available in divorce cases.
• BWLAP attorneys were active advocates in the Governor’s Commission on Sexual and Domestic Violence.
For services, contact the BWLAP program in your area:
Legal Services and Counseling Center
Boston Legal Services
Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts
Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services
MetroWest Legal Services
Coastal Counties Legal Services
Western Massachusetts Legal Services
Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Last updated September 5, 2008